We are born into a gamut of social networks: our families, neighbourhoods, religious communities, schools, political tribes, football teams, etc. Human beings simply cannot function in isolation. We are social animals. The social networks we have built as a species are, of course, immensely rich, varied and complex and information technology has made it possible to even decouple a network from its members’ geographical location.
For effective grant writing we need to take a deliberate approach to “networking” and to understanding the network in which our grants will be born, judged and ultimately live (i.e get funded) or die (i.e. get rejected).
In a previous post, I argued that writing academic papers and grants has a lot in common with what is called “non-sales” selling, which is discussed at length in D.H. Pink’s book “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Persuading, Convincing, and Influencing Others“.
I also proposed that grant hackers are in the business of moving people. That is, successful grant hackers and prolific authors try to persuade, a topic that has been discussed at length in influential books such as, eg., D.E. Goldberg’s “A Whole New Engineer: The Coming Revolution in Engineering Education“.
So who, as grant hackers, are we trying to persuade, influence and bring to our side of the argument? And, in turn, who is persuading, influencing and convincing us? The answer is quite simple: the members of our social networks. If you are in the business of writing grants, i.e., moving others to side with your ideas and part with money, you must spend effort nurturing your social network; learning from it and contributing to it. Adam Grant in “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drive Our Success” beautifully illustrates why understanding our social networks and helping others to succeed is a more sustainable and rewarding way of, in turn, improving our own lives.
Many members of our social networks are important when writing grants, but one set of members is pivotal to the success of our grant proposals: the reviewers. When designing and prototyping your grants, you must take into account that social networks are rich, complex and diverse, which means that the reviewers that will decide the outcome of a grant are also diverse. So here is a list of the 8 personality traits that you should consider when building a grant:
- Connectors: scientists, industrialists, etc. who are masters at networking. Build your support network with their help; connect your social network to them so your ideas may travel further. Check with them how original your ideas are… they probably know somebody, who knows somebody, doing something similar.
- Mavens: comes from Yiddish and means a person who knows a lot about lots of things. They might be colleagues who have deep knowledge of a subject and, crucially, are generous sharing it. Find them and learn from them, get their feedback early on.
- Salesperson: the proverbial charismatic individual that can drive a vision forward. They instinctively know how to articulate a message to resonate with different audiences. Give them a chance to help you to better sell your grant.
- Innovators: they are “out there”, with the craziest ideas, the vision – a bit reckless. They build breakthroughs. Get some of their sparkles by getting feedback from them, collaborate with them and benefit from the “halo” effect discussed in Thinking, Fast and Slow”.
- Early adopters: individuals who are not afraid of rapidly trying, and often discarding, new ideas; they are intellectually promiscuous, trendsetters and, because of this, they can give you a good hint about the appeal and stickiness of your grant.
- Early majority: they are attuned to incoming innovations and have both an ear for newness as well as their feet on the ground; they consolidate a trend. They could help you do a “reality check” of your grant’s one idea.
- Late majority: they follow the herd; can give you insights of how conservative reviewers might perceive your proposed idea or methodologies.
- Laggards: ultraconservative mindset, adapt to change very reluctantly. They are your worst-case scenario for a reviewer, thus learn up front what they think about your ideas.
Getting feedback early on is an invaluable source of ideas, information and constraints for designing your grant. But, as I said earlier in this post, you must be deliberate and meticulous about who you share information with, how you -in turn- collect feedback, from whom and ultimately, to what outcome (funded/not funded) the feedback (and its source ) lead to. To help you keep track of this, I have put together a simple tool, the Grant Hackers Social Network Canvas, which appears in the figure below, and that you can download at the bottom of this post.
The fields in the canvas are self-explanatory, with a box for administrative information (grant title, founder, etc) so you can keep track over time of whom you approached and what results they led to. Then, for each personality trait, there is a suggested number of how many of these individuals you may want to engage. The canvas also suggests that the exploration of your social network should be done, at least, in two stages. Firstly, before you write anything. Approach your network with a design thinking attitude via prototypes and minimal viable products representing your grant’s idea, methodology, etc. Furnished with feedback from these individuals, then go and write a strong draft. Then use the social network canvas to guide you in selecting whom to contact to fill your Grant Hackers Scoring Card.
But wait, what is the Grant Hackers Scoring Card? well, you will need to wait until the new year! So stay tuned, I’ll be back in 2020.
In the meantime, Merry Christmas and Happy Hanuka!
Grant Hackers “Social Network Canvas” by Natalio Krasnogor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://blog.granthackers.club/contact/.